Inkstone
    May
    02
    2018
    May
    02
    2018
    Hong Kong’s spice shaming must stop
    Hong Kong’s spice shaming must stop
    OPINION

    Hong Kong’s spice shaming must stop

    Andrew Sun
    ANDREW SUN
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    Andrew is a contributor to Inkstone. He has dabbled in many shades of the media spectrum for 25 years, from college radio, TV, print and online columnist to starting film festivals, managing music labels and authoring food books. Someday he will figure what he wants to be when he grows up.

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    Andrew Sun
    ANDREW SUN
    arrow right
    Andrew is a contributor to Inkstone. He has dabbled in many shades of the media spectrum for 25 years, from college radio, TV, print and online columnist to starting film festivals, managing music labels and authoring food books. Someday he will figure what he wants to be when he grows up.

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    Cantonese cuisine has always been spice-shy, unlike its counterparts in much of the rest of China. After years of avoiding fiery chilli dishes and eating spicy food “adapted to local tastes,” Hong Kong is finally embracing 50 shades of Scoville, says Andrew Sun

    The spice shaming must stop. It’s time Hong Kong comes out and admits there’s nothing wrong with liking spicy food.

    The myth was always that the Cantonese in southern China prefer clean flavours and delicate cooking, as exemplified by the cuisine’s steamed fish and clear soups. Too much spicy food, grandmothers warned, will get you an upset stomach or ulcer. To this day, the most common customer question before ordering at Indian, Mexican and Korean restaurants is, “How hot is this dish?”

    The fallacy of fiery heat being a vice is sometimes reinforced at family dim sum lunches. The uncle who liked to drink and bet on horses was usually also the one to keep asking for more chili oil. No one else really touched that intimidating red lava, but he would lustily dip his dumplings into it and slather the oil on his meats.

    Chilis drying in the sun in drying in east China’s Jiangxi Province.
    Chilis drying in the sun in drying in east China’s Jiangxi Province. Photo: Xinhua/Wan Xiang

    For years, it’s been presumed that diners in Hong Kong are too timid for super-hot action. Restaurants avoided featuring too many dishes on the menu with chili pepper icons next to them. But that intolerance seems to be changing. Now, people are proclaiming loud and proud that we’re here, we’re fierce and we want to dig into flaming hot food.

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    When I was young, it all seemed forbidden and dangerous.

    Instead I followed the straight and narrow as a spice wimp. I thought I couldn’t handle heat. I tasted candied ginger and found it too intense. Occasionally when hot sauce was dabbed on my food, I thought hot coals were being raked over my tongue.

    As a result I abstained. I conservatively chose Italian over Thai, kebabs over kimchi.

    Group 5
    Father, forgive me for I have capsaicin’d.

    My only spice transgressions were stupid high school wasabi challenges. Admittedly, we were a bunch of immature boys flailing at manhood by way of cheap green mustard on even cheaper sushi. Honestly, we abused ourselves.

    To sushi chefs everywhere, I feel shame and I am sorry.

    Eventually, I overcame my reluctance and began flirting with piquant pleasures. Father, forgive me for I have capsaicin’d. I began ordering curries with the chili symbol next to them. I tried buffalo hot wings and moved on to harder kicks like Jamaican jerk chicken. I dipped my toe (or tongue, as it were) into mapo tofu, then dove into a Sichuan hotpot, which almost entirely consists of chili.

    Sichuan dishes: 90% chili.
    Sichuan dishes: 90% chili. Photo: SCMP/Jonathan Wong

    After a while, I craved the rush of a detonation in my mouth, sometimes followed by another explosive bodily action the next day. Soon I found myself cosying up to food spicier than others could handle. This might be what a Jedi apprentice feels upon discovering the Force. Hot food to eat I had the power, Yoda.

    As times change, Hong Kong has begun to indulge – and the number of restaurants serving spicy foods has increased. People are revelling in the flushed, sweaty glow of numbing-spicy mala radiation on their lips. There are more than 50 shades of Scoville to seduce you while eating. That euphoric pain is now accepted as pleasurable and intoxicating. Sriracha sauce is so hip it hurts.

    Food researchers continue to confirm there are genuine health benefits to a diet with spicy cuisine, so instead of abstinence, we should just debunk that taboo. There’s nothing wrong with liking it hot.

    ANDREW SUN
    ANDREW SUN
    Andrew is a contributor to Inkstone. He has dabbled in many shades of the media spectrum for 25 years, from college radio, TV, print and online columnist to starting film festivals, managing music labels and authoring food books. Someday he will figure what he wants to be when he grows up.

    ANDREW SUN
    ANDREW SUN
    Andrew is a contributor to Inkstone. He has dabbled in many shades of the media spectrum for 25 years, from college radio, TV, print and online columnist to starting film festivals, managing music labels and authoring food books. Someday he will figure what he wants to be when he grows up.

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